John Madden
John Madden
Perfect opportunity for Broncos and Colts
By John Madden

At some point in the preseason, a team must check to see where it is. Historically, the second-to-last preseason game is the weekend.

When you have a top quarterback, protection has to be at the top of your priority list.
With four preseason games, the first two are used as an opportunity to use and see lots of players and to get the backups some reps. The third game is a chance to play your starters into the third quarter to gauge where your team is. This also allows the team the chance to make adjustments at halftime. Of course, this plan is negated if your starters are banged up, because there's no reason to risk their health for a preseason game.

It's perfect that the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos were matched up against each other Monday night for several reasons. They both have offenses capable of scoring a lot of points and they also have exceptional talent at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Colts' Defense Still Needs To Improve
When Edgerrin James is healthy and running well, he is dangerous and has to be respected. When the Colts run play-action to him, a team must react or he'll burn them. The other side of the coin is that if they overreact, then Peyton Manning will hurt them through the air.

The Colts like to use two tight ends a great deal. Two years ago they had Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard, and now they have first-round pick Dallas Clark. The Colts realize they need other receivers to complement Marvin Harrison. Obviously, Harrison is going to catch more balls than anyone else, and he will always be Manning's go-to guy, but a secondary receiver is needed.

Indianapolis is making some moves with its offensive line, switching the positions of some linemen. When you have a top quarterback, protection has to be at the top of your priority list.

Defense is also an area the Colts need to improve. Tony Dungy came in as the head coach last year with a heavy emphasis on defense and used the same defense the Tampa Bay Buccaneers created and the St. Louis Rams use. But they just don't have the players.

One player they do have is defensive end Dwight Freeney, a first-round draft pick in 2002 out of Syracuse. Towards the end of last season he played well, and after watching him this preseason it's obvious he's going to be a good player. Chad Bratzke is coming back, and he will play some defensive tackle and some defensive end. I think the Colts have a good defensive scheme, but they just need some more players.

Broncos' Biggest Question: How Jake Adapts
The biggest question concerning the Broncos is how Jake Plummer will adapt to coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. I'm sure he'll play well, because he has good players around him. Running back Clinton Portis is a heckuva back; he makes good moves to the hole and flashes good speed. As a rookie last year he wasn't thrown to much, but this year he'll get more screen passes.

The Broncos have good, reliable outside receivers in Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and second-year pro Ashley Lelie, who is challenging for playing time. Tight end Shannon Sharpe, a 14-year veteran, is back and looks like he still has some gas in the tank. One of Plummer's problems in Arizona was that he felt he had to shoulder the load by himself. He shouldn't have that problem in this offense.

But the success of Denver's season may be dictated by how well the defense plays. The Broncos have a new defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, and a new defensive philosophy. They want the front four to be dominant, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But with the exception of Trevor Pryce, they have no dominant players up front. The linebackers, though, are solid and fast and good tacklers.

The other question for the defense is the secondary. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal didn't have a great 2002 season and is fighting for a starting job with Lenny Walls and Kelly Herndon.
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